By Vivian Okejeme, Abuja
Justice Inyang Ekwo, yesterday, discountenanced the suit filed by the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) Natasha Akpoti against Governor Yahaya Bello, in the November 16 Kogi governorship election in the state.
Akpoti is before the court, praying to order the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) not to accept Bello as candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
She is also asking the court to debarred governor Bello from contesting the governorship election on the grounds that he registered twice as against the Electoral Act.
However, the court had in a judgment, yesterday, said the suit being a criminal matter can not be filed by an individual, except by fiat of prosecuting agencies, cannot come through civil proceedings.
He added that the plaintiff instituted the action through civil proceedings which robbed her of locus standi.
In upholding the preliminary objection raised by the defendants, Justice Inyang said the court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the substantive matter.
Inyang said ‘no litigant can create a civil action out of a criminal offence,” adding the penalty for double registration is one year imprisonment or N100, 000 fine or both as the case may be.
“This denies the court of jurisdiction to entertain the suit. This court therefore make an order striking out the suit,” Inyang said.
The SDP candidate, who prayed the court to stop the APC from presenting Bello as its governorship candidate disqualify Bello, has trough an order of mandamus, sought oder of the court to compel INEC to prosecute the governor for the alleged double registration, adding it was an electoral offence.
The plaintiff, has through her counsel, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), prayed the court to disqualify Bello, on the grounds that he was not qualified to contest the election on account of double registration.
Akpoti prayed the court to make a consequential order that Bello was not qualified to have contested the election having registered in both Abuja and Lokoja, capital city of Kogi, an offence against Section 24 of the Electoral Act.
Ozekhome maintained that the case was not a pre-election matter that requires time limit to file but a case of fraud, which could be filed anytime.
He submitted that INEC already admitted it committed an error to have registered Bello twice and that the staff who carried out the double registration were sacked, but according to Ozekhome, INEC said its hands were tied to do anything now because of the governor’s immunity.
“INEC has said on television that it committed a grave error by registering him (Bello) twice in Abuja and Lokoja, saying if not for immunity, they would have moved against him.”
He argued that Bello was not fit to vote or be voted for in any election in the country.
Ozekhome insisted that when fraud is involved, as the instant case, time of filing is not an issue.
In its submissions, the APC through its counsel, Abdulwahab Mohammed, in a preliminary objection, however, urged the court to dismiss the suit, while questioning the competence of the court to entertain the matter.
He said it was a pre-election issue, which is stalled because time allowed to file a pre-election matter has already elapsed.
“The electoral act is very clear on this, only a person who has been convicted that cannot stand election. Bello has not been convicted, he is not on trial, the case is only an academic exercise. I urged my Lord to dismiss the suit.”
The electoral body, in its submission made through their counsel, Al Hassan Umar (SAN), stated the cause of action, being 14 Oct, 2019, time of filing the suit, by the provision of Section 285(9) of the Electoral Act, the time to file the suit has elapsed.
He said INEC was also challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the matter, saying the 3rd defendant has not been charged or convicted to warrant being disallowed to contest an election.
He submitted further that mere suspicion of alleged double registration or an offence “bordering on fraud was not enough to disqualify anyone through administrative tribunal”
He urged the court to dismiss the suit.
U. Abdullahi, who represented Bello, challenged the competence of the plaintiff to file the case. He said there was no documents from the plaintiff to prove that the Bello registered twice.
“He was not in the country when he was alleged to have carried out the double registration. He was not in the country between May 13 – 18, to have registered twice as being alleged.”
He further submitted that the suit cannot come through originating summon in the case of fraud but only through writ of summon.
He therefore urged the court to dismiss the case in its entirely and award cost against the plaintiff for wasting the time of the court and counsel.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Bello are the 1st – 3rd defendants in the matter.